A very rare Chinese saber guard dating from the height of the Qing dynasty.
88 cm / 34.6 inch
73.5 / 28.9 inch
at tip 3mm
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The curved, single-handed saber was introduced into China from the steppe by the Mongols who used it to great effect from horseback. Since the introduction, the Chinese really made the design their own but single-handed curved sabers were there to stay, being used as the standard saber of the military of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Some sabers still show hints of their steppe origins, which were in turn heavily influenced by sabers from the Islamic world.
One of the most obvious remains of their middle eastern origins are tunkou, a brass or iron sleeve at the base of some Chinese sabers. Throughout the Qing dynasty, middle eastern elements still made it to Chinese sabers, this time most likely by trade and cultural exchange at the fringes of the massive Qing empire. Examples are Persian style segmented grooves, Mughal Indian style U-turn grooves, Turkic style raised backedges, Mameluke style staggered features, running dragon cartouches, etc.
The saber presented in this article drew inspiration from even further: It features a blade that seems inspired by the Ottoman yatağan
An extremely rare or possibly unique type of Chinese officer's saber, or peidao, of the 18th century. The long, narrow blade has a recurved shape, seemingly inspired by Ottoman yatağan. It does not only copy the recurved shape of the yatağan, but also has a narrow fuller at the top of the blade, much like many yatağan. However, where the classic yatağan would have a somewhat wider blade near the center of percussion, this saber holds true to Chinese fashions on tapering in width and narrows down gradually from base to point.
Both sides of the forte have a chiseled oval cartouche with an animal. The animal does not lend itself to easy identification but it bears a close resemblance to some stylized lions that are seen in identical cartouches on Persian sword blades, often together with the mark "Asad Allah" or "Lion of God", a legendary swordsmith whose mark was used over many centuries. The later examples of the lion are often so stylized they look like a capybara instead, just like the ones on this saber. It is very likely that this feature was directly copied from a Persian blade.
Blade is of classic Chinese construction with a high carbon edge plate sandwiched between two layers of forge folded steel. The steel shows a very active pattern. When glancing over the edge with the sword pointed away, one can see the dramatic effects of differential heat treatment, creating a rather wild effect of crystalline clouds (hamon in Japanese) that is hard to capture on camera. It has seen action, there are some minor nicks, the largest of which some 20 cm from the guard. Some small pits and tool marks remain that were too deep to polish out. Otherwise in outstanding condition. Blade retains its stiff, rigid temper.
It comes with its original iron hilt fittings, a rarity nowadays on the earlier Chinese sabers. The fittings are of classic fansgshi or "angular style". Their workmanship is very precise, a lot more so than the norm even for officer's sabers of the day. The pommel is particularly elegant, with a gently flaring profile and pierced and chiseled designs of foliage and stylized clouds on either side. Such elegant restraint is a hallmark for Chinese sabers of the 17th and 18th century.
Blade in new polish by Philip Tom, who also made the custom storage scabbard it comes with. I did the grip wrap with handwoven, hand braided, naturally indigo dyed cotton cord.
A yatağan in China?
One might wonder how a Chinese sword could possibly be inspired by Ottoman yatağan. Truth is, there had always been a lot of trade going back and forth between China and the Ottoman empire. The Topkapi Palace is full of Ming and Qing porcelain, some of which exclusively made for the Ottomans with Islamic verses on them. The Palace Museum in Taipei, housing part of the old Qing imperial collection, has an extensive collection of Islamic jades, many of which were from the Ottoman empire.
Most of the Ottoman jades came in reach of the Qing after Qing forces conquered eastern Turkestan from the Dzunghars in 1759. In that year, the Qing took control of the oasis city of Kashgar, establishing a Manchu garrison in the city. Kashgar was an important trade post along the silk road where the markets were full of items from all over the region, including weapons such as jade-hilted daggers from Mughal India and the Ottoman empire. Qing troops stationed here were quite likely to see Ottoman yatağan that either made to the markets through trade or were worn by merchants and their retinues who reached the city from the Ottoman empire. In fact, Kashgar was so far west that it was closer to the border of the Ottoman Empire than it was to Beijing.
A quality Chinese saber of the 18th century, with very rare Ottoman-inspired blade shape and Persian inspired lion cartouche. It shows the rich cultural exchange that went on between the military elites of the Qing and the Islamic world. It comes with its original hilt fittings in classic iron fangshi, with pierced and chiseled pommel.
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